Exceptions Are Not Rules: 3 Safe Guards

The life of a manager would not be complete without that wonderful day where she finds herself stumped as to why a staff member acted in a certain manner inconsistent with policy.  After several months of training a colleague, you find them going a different direction than guided.  It is inevitable.  It will happen.

The next surprise is when they tell you it was  your idea.  What?  My idea?  What incredible bump do you have on your head that caused such a thought?  Have you lost your mind?  Where did you get that idea?

Then you remember.  You remember the question you answered last week in the middle of a major emergency.  A customer needed an exception to your normal policy for a critical project.  You authorized the team to process the job in a different manner.  It was an exception needed and specific to that day and that job and that customer.  Now, it is a rule.  Now, it is embedded in the minds of staff as the way to cut a job short.

Of course, if you take this exception route on a routine basis you will lose all your profits, mix up customer work orders, and generally destroy the business.  One time on a special project is okay with manager discretion.  Any time on normal jobs with a staff discretion is chaos.

Every manager must understand exceptions, communicate them clearly, and contain expanded usage.

Understand Exceptions

The impact of an exception on the minds of team members is big.  They watch you, manager.  They take clues for action from your action.  When you step out of the normal, they believe it is okay to do the same anytime they so choose.  Get it?  Get it!  Guard it.

Understand your own decision.  You cannot simply make an exception without understanding and being able to explain to someone else.

Exceptions are not meant to be rules; however, if you don’t take the next two steps, they will become rules.

Communicate Clearly

Exceptions will cause a problem.  They will.  You have order and rules to prevent problems.  Okay, accept that and be prepared to contain the problem.  Of course, you accommodate for that in your decision.  Explain the problem.  Explain the accommodation.  Explain why this is a onetime decision.  Be prepared for questions and distrust.  Yes, you worked hard to communicate why you would never do what you just did and then you did it.  But, it was an exception, right?  You really did have a reason other than you just wanted to do it?  Right?

Let your leaders and decision makers know this is an exception, why you made it, and how they might follow your logic in their next decision.  Logic?  You had some, right?

Contain Expanded Usage

After an exception, reinforce the rule.  Take time to pull documentation if necessary and explain why this is a onetime decision and why not to do it with any regularity.  Be honest.  Did you do it for political purposes?  Then explain the urgency of the situation and protocol you followed.  Did you do it to prevent  Don’t hide behind, “Because I said so.”  That is weak and lacks open communication to the team.

Summary:  Do these three things when you make an exception and they won’t become a rule.

Be attentive and cautious when making exceptions that they really fulfill your direction.

Always enjoy managing the exceptions and the disciplines.

Be Busy Building Business  Have a Great Day!

Phil

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6 Summer Tips for Business Development

This AP article stimulated good thought.  It is  a quick read.  Take out a piece of paper as you read an write down at least 3 action items you are going to make happen.

What do you do when you are in downtime?

Every business hits downtime.  Sometimes it is planned or seasonal or just happens for no explainable reason.  It can be some of your most profitable time.

This AP writer – Jennifer WitterJennefer Witter does a good job noting six downtime action items:

Grow Your Network – Refresh Your Web Presence (include social) – Assess Goals – Get Staff on Track – Automate – Get Away

Enjoy….The Big Story 6 Things Small Businesses Should Do This Summer

The Five P’s of a Manager’s Portfolio Allow Right Building

The Five P’s of a Manager’s Portfolio Allow Right Building

Assessing a business operation takes scrutiny of the right five P’s.  Get it wrong and you can find yourself damaging more than building.  Get it right and the right stuff comsolum3des together.  Look to the heart not the surface.  Uncover riches.

Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.  Abraham Lincoln

First Things:  Begin with the end in mind.  This is another article, but you need to be reminded before you look into the P’s.  Every operation includes an objective to be measured and met.  Don’t look too deeply into the organization before you determine this item.  Otherwise, the P’s, which may be out of position, can lead you to wrong places.  If they were perfect, why would anyone need you?  They must continually be adjusted to measureable objectives.

People:  Take time to review the people set.  Are the right passions, personalities, and portions (skills sets) on the team?  Is this set to succeed or set to fail?  Has this team been intentionally built and honed or sporadically pieced together?  What will it take to realign and make productive?  What is missing?  What is unbalanced?

Props (Tools and Technologies): Examine the tools and technologies in the operation.  Are they current?  Are you trying to hit a big hairy audacious goal with skinny, smooth banana peels?  Has the shop been kept upgraded or held back with cost cutting for years?  What will be the investment?   Is the team “too techy” and loaded up with an oversupply so that no tool is really mastered?

Processes:  If you can’t document the processes clearly, you don’t know what you are doing.  Deming said something similar to that.  He’s right.  In one shop, it took two years to get process documentation settled.  Development teams kept changing the underlying processes without ever settling on the existing.  No one really knew what a good result at the end of the day looked like.  After documentation was settled, the team performed smoothly and on time every day according to company needs.   This is a touchy and tough area to address.  Don’t avoid it.

Projects:  Projects in motion reveal major needs if they are rightly designed.  The lack of defined  projects is a sure sign of a disparate, disorderly, and dying operation.  Are capital improvements in motion?  What services are being designed for future delivery?  Is there a training program?  Crosstraining?

Products and Services:  Well, why do you exist without these?  Service catalogue?  Do the focused customer groups know how to get great service and what service is available?  What of these are core critical to the overall organization?  Why?

Summary:  If you take these five P’s and write down three notes, you have the beginning of a great business plan.  1. What is the inventory or status of the P?  Make a list of the items and critical criteria, benefits, advantages, and demographics.  Assess alignment to objective and need. 2. What needs changed?  3. What is the impact on the other four P’s when I change it?

That’s enough for now.  Business is building.  Never stop building.

Excellence Starts Here! Three Tips For Top Performance. Engaging Ingenuity.

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These two gentlemen represent a great event in a production shop.  What really is the beginning of such powerful events?  Oh, the event?  The team had kept key equipment up and running and productive for 30 days with no vendor calls.  Amazing.  Especially considering the fact that prior to this the equipment required calls every 2-3 days for many years.  They are holding an award for the historic event.  Now, back to the question.  What really is the beginning of such powerful events?

Think about why you need these events?  A friend used to call them “Big Days”.  Big Days build strength in an organization, overcome defiant obstacles, and release energy of the team in a positive manner that is brooding in a negative manner.  For those reasons alone, you need to engage the next three points.

One: Get dissatisfied.  Yes, that is the beginning of all great change.  If you are comfortable and content, change is a threat.  You must engage vision for the future with passion and be dissatisfied with the status quo.

Two:  Spread your dissatisfaction.  Now, you don’t need to get people upset over nothing.  But if the people you are serving can’t get their jobs done or their product delivered or their services received on time, you need to get some partners in your dissatisfaction.  Other managers, co-workers, staff, key customers, executives and others probably are already dissatisfied.  Let them know you understand and listen to their view points.

Three:  This is where real change starts.  Pick a key point over which everyone is dissatisfied and attack it with passion and purpose.  Dig for a root cause that will help everyone in the process.  The theory of constraints explains that when you dig out a major point of constraint, you loosen up other constraints to become visible so they can be resolved.  In other words, break the dam!

You will be amazed.  This team went into overdrive for customer satisfaction when they found this one barrier to productivity resolved.  They annihilated this bothersome downtime issue on key machines, developed new procedures for maintaining the equipment, gained independence from the vendor, improved production turnaround times, and improved the entire shop morale.

Just a thought today for those looking to do something good for themselves and those they serve.

Exec/Direct In-Plant Thrive – Online Optimized

ImageOnline support and pdf workflow stabilization:

The fallacy still exists in the print services industry that you can get by without big feature online services.  You can’t.  Any executive or manager that is looking to improve performance must attend to this item.

A good online and pdf workflow system with right features for customers and production and administrative can drive significant costs out of reworks, job loss to competitors, and lag times on projects.  It also can bring in a constant flow of repeat business and give you a competitive advantage.  You can establish a clear differentiation from competition and integrate your production workflow with the customer workflow.  When they order, you can be the only option on their mind.

Inside the shop, there is an amazing turnaround improvement as wasted hours of looking for information are reduced and the status of every job is known at every moment.

For the administrative team invoice and chargeback information accuracy improves and historical analysis of product mix performance by customer and product type becomes available.

Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt

Why would you not move into this world?  Confusion over what you need leads the biggest fear factor.  Fear of a long project implementation that fails is another uncertainty area.  Doubt that your team can pull off the project correctly is another block to productive adaptation.

What online support is not.

Online support is not an ftp site with a little file information.  That is primitive and is what most print providers call online ordering.  If that is all you have, you need to move forward rapidly to find a more featured solution.

Online support is not job costing with file attachment.  Again, some have moved a step up the chain and adapted to at least give customers some added information.  However, most of those serving and most of those ordering are fully aware, the price at the delivery rarely matches in these type systems.  Customers need accuracy.

Online support is not an order system that resists integration with the other major processes of a production shop.  This can be frustrating.

What is going on in most shops?

In many shops those three represent the extent of online ordering support for the customer and the staff running the shop.  Every executive and manager can improve services for the organization and for the customers by going into a big feature online ordering support.

What does real online ordering and pdf workflow look like?

Okay, get your pencil out and begin to go over the checklist.  In the next ten years, you will be converted to this way of thinking or you might just not be in the business anymore.  It amazes me how much we resist the power of good ideas.  You need to demand your online software vendor support what you are getting ready to read and you need to demand your in-plant find a cost effective implementation for you.

  1. Online ordering requires acceptance of file upload of supported standard file types.
  2. A good system will archive prior files ordered and allow reorder without reupload.
  3. Catalogue collection and customization by client group.
  4. Variable customization of certain orders for dynamic build of post, brochure, business cards.
  5. Look and feel by client group ordering.  Make it personal for the client.
  6. Tight security and separation of file storage.
  7. Dynamic status of order reflecting whether the order has been moved to press, finishing, or shipped.
  8. Content lockdown with marketing, legal, compliance, and any other customer required approvals.
  9. Great systems have fulfillment for non-print items and high demand print items.
  10. Great systems are integrated into automatic invoicing.
  11. Great systems are integrated into shippers like Fedex and UPS for single reference from order point to receipt by the customer.
  12. Great systems have production integration for the shop so internal service can monitor all orders from a single console.

So, what is keeping the industry from running forward?  Automation leaders like VistaPrint and Shutterfly have proven value of powerful online systems.  Of course, an in-plant is not purposed to serve the world with such product, but they can certainly improve the purpose they serve.  There are some tremendous in-plants that have brought incredible value to their customers and owners through adopting online.

Get with it.  Find a way to implement and milk the value out of online and interactive custom ordering services.

FUD Removers

Yes, you do need to deal with the fear, uncertainty and doubt.

  1. Develop a list of criteria.
  2. Talk to key stakeholders in the customer areas.
  3. Build a shortlist of acceptable vendors with an RFI (request for information).
  4. Produce a product list that would be supported with expected sales growth by product.
  5. Calculate waste reductions with a LEAN DOWNTIME approach.  That is another article.
  6. Go for it and make your customers happy.

Product Optimization: Six Core Area For In-Plant Cost Optimization for Executives

ImageProduct Optimization: Six Core Area For In-Plant Cost Optimization for Executives

Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.  Steve Jobs

Love the Product.  Love the Customer.  Love Each Other.  Phil Larson

That mantra has served me well for decades.  Loving your products and services builds professionalism and excellence into all you and your team produce.  Loving your customer causes you to find inventive ways to serve.  You listen and adapt to their needs.  Loving the other members of your production team causes you to believe in them and work to see them grow.  It works together.

Ingenuity inside a performing enterprise takes dedication to the voice of the customer in product optimization. 

One shop had worked for years on shifting priorities of several companies.  A particular product needed in a particular manner eluded their capabilities. Both the people in the company needing service and the people in production were stumped.  Eventually, a bright-minded setup tech invented a plan.  With some modifications in production and some workflow adaptation in order intake and online systems, the product was brought successfully into plant production.  The department saved thousands of dollars a month and reduced lag times on orders.  They also moved from a static mode to a dynamic mode.  They also eliminated the need for a complete position and the person in that position moved up into a higher contributing spot.  What a win-win-win-win!  The production team loved servicing the product line and it filled in for a dropped product line.

Product Optimization is getting the right product mix that is profitable and fit to the location, equipment, and people.  Make it important.  Pricing has to be right.  Prioritization has to be right.  Process has to be right.  Effective turnaround on the products that are bread and butter and keep the shop running day to day has to be protected.

Let’s look at those components of product optimization.

Props: Tools and Technologies

Adding a new product or service can entail huge shifts in people skill base.  There has to be time to build the new skills and knowledge.  Plan it in.  Make sure your budget planning includes expanding tools and technologies and integrating training across teams ahead of product launch.

When implementing UV coating, it became apparent it was not as simple as we thought.  Finishing techs were excellent at folding, perfing, bookmaking and other areas.  UV is almost an art of temperature, paper type, speed , thickness, machine, and coating.  It is certainly a craft where skill, expertise, and art combine.  There were many trials and errors before we could brag about capability.  However, once launched, the demand was continual.

Pricing

Custom work means custom pricing.  Many in-plants are not set up for custom anything.  People who have used the service are used to pay per piece or pay per page or pay for nothing just make the budget work.  That can be limiting when products and services need to be customized for one area though not all need them.  Budgeted hourly rates, production turns, machine setups, people time in workflow, and supplies all have to be put into pricing calculators to then match to market bearing numbers.  This is tough work and necessary.  No one can operate on cost alone.  A fully loaded cost contains many factors including profit.  Profit for an in-plant means allocated dollars for increasing equipment and skill training to always improve for the people you serve.

Pricing reflects value.  Value reflects dignity.  Dignity reflects ownership.  Ownership makes for great results.

A client was ready for custom one-off book production.  Anyone who has ordered a photo book online understands the high dollars charged.  This client balked at even a low charge.  Entitlement thinking had prepped them for simply not having to pay any extra for custom, labor intensive work.  Negotiation and clear-headed thinking prevailed and a new product was co-invented for the client that revolutionized sales results for one company.  The sales teams received access to custom proposals in high quality book form that set them in much higher esteem with prospects.  A simple pricing negotiation between the in-plant and the creative released power for an entire sales team.

Prioritization

Every shop has a mix of people served.  Every business unit served and every department has different business demands and workflows that have to be met and matched.  This balance keeps the symbiotic excellence for a performing enterprise that is so necessary for complete productivity.   New product and altered product requires prioritization changes communicated at every step of the process.

Blow out of your mind the thought of levels of the process when considering priority.  Thinking of levels of people will get you in trouble.  Every person in the process chain needs to understand prioritization of performance in relation to the other items on which they work not “the president wants this right now”.   That form of prioritization is surely necessary at times and managers have to adjust to make it happen while keeping the flow of all the business considered.  An open channel for emergencies has to be in place.  But, the normal flow of product and service has to have a regular prioritization all can understand.

Process

An in-plant with good service means a busy in-plant.  Move one item and five others are affected.  In one plant, we had over 250 steps for each print order.  From file prep to print to finish to distribute to allocate $$, it all had to be done and communicated.

This is a good place to make a note about humanizing services.  A great lesson for me was finding a way to allow the people we served to look into our processes without turning control over to them.  One person loved to walk up to the production team and shift their priorities either through smoozing or scowling.  Neither helped anyone.  I’ll never forget a twenty year professional broken down in my office, nerves shot, and eyes red from trying to serve this person.  The person needed influence, but not in the middle of production processes.  We altered our customer service approaches to be more inclusive of them and others along with spending time communicating our process methodologies.  The interruptive visits went away.

Protection

Our votes(decisions) must go together with our guns (force of need). After all, any vote we shall have, shall have been the product of the gun. The gun which produces the vote should remain its security officer – its guarantor. The people’s votes and the people’s guns are always inseparable twins.  Robert Mugabe

Executives and directors, I encourage you to protect what you value.     You don’t have to pull out a gun to protect prior decisions, but you certainly should think protection.  Decisions have been made with great thought and foresight.  There was force of need that implemented past decisions and force of need that makes new ones.  When you implement change, you need to address protecting prior decisions so the team understands value of loyalty and service.  Otherwise you look petty and political and might make some costly mistakes.

Okay, that is enough thinking on this subject.  The online book can give you more insights.

Next up will be online support and pdf workflow optimization.  If you have an in-plant, Mr/Mrs/Ms  Executive, you must make this happen.

Responsibility and Sustainability

Pain Points

Removing Workflow Constraints

Profitable Cost Reduction

Value Add